Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Images worth sharing

Monday, October 28, 2013

This week’s DVD releases

Bounty Killer Matthew Marsden, Kristianna Luken, Christian Pitre, Barak Hardley, Abraham Benrubi, Eve Jeffers, Beverly D’Angelo, Kevin McNally, Gary Busey. Directed by Henry Saine. It’s been 20 years since corporations took over the world’s governments; in retaliation, a group issues death warrants for all white-collar criminals. From amateur savage to graceful assassin, the bounty killers now compete for body count and cash. The film’s lack of seriousness isn’t the problem; rather, it’s that its jokey carnage is all caricatured poses devoid of original verve or legitimate wit.

Byzantium **** Gemma Arterton, Saoirse Ronan. Directed by Neil Jordan. Residents of a coastal town learn, with deathly consequences, the secret (which becomes clear quickly in the above trailer)shared by the two mysterious women who have sought shelter at a local resort. It takes a while, but the old-fashioned pleasure of watching a well-told story unfold eventually becomes the chief satisfaction in Byzantium, though there are other things to enjoy as well.

Free Samples *** Jess Weixler, Halley Feiffer, Jesse Eisenberg, Jason Ritter, Tippi Hedren. Directed by Jay Gammill. Jillian has dropped out of law school and migrated to Los Angeles in this comedy about deferred adulthood and the romantic hazards of heavy drinking. But a day spent doling out ice cream samples to the Angelenos dramatically changes her attitude. This is a modest but pleasant small-budget movie with two bits of laziness in the script, but one particularly sweet performance that makes up for them.

Monsters University **½ John Goodman, Billy Crystal, Steve Buscemi, Dan Foley, Julia Sweeney. Directed by Dan Scanlon. This prequel to Monsters Inc. once again features eccentric monster pals Mike Wazowski and James P. Sullivan. Set during their college days, the film tells the tale of how the pair became friends. As a piece of disposable entertainment, this strenuously upbeat prequel passes with vibrant colors and will. But as an offering from Pixar, the studio that set the platinum standard for contemporary animated features, it’s an awful disappointment — and one more reason to worry about Pixar’s future under Disney ownership.

Out in the Dark *** Nicholas Jacob, Michael Aloni. Directed by Michael Mayer. The story of a love affair between two men on opposite sites of the Mid-East conflict: Palestinian student Nimer and Roy, an Israeli lawyer. This suspenseful love story isn’t a political film by any stretch, but the intrigue and prejudices of the Arab-Israeli conflict certainly fuel the romance and thrills of this entertaining, taut movie.

R.I.P.D. * Jeff Bridges, Ryan Reynolds, Kevin Bacon, Mary-Louise Parker, Stephanie Szostak. Directed by Robert Schwentke. A recently slain cop joins a team of undead police officers and tries to find the man who murdered him. A dud that squanders a decent cast and succeeds neither as the comedy nor the action film it purports to be.

Plenty of blame to go around for Cowboys loss

That sound you just heard was Calvin Johnson (81) catching another pass against the Cowboys
Reading the papers and the bloggers this morning you would think the only thing that caused the Dallas Cowboys to drop a 31-30 NFL game to the Detroit Lions was the Cowboys defense, which surrendered 488 passing yards to the Lions, including 329 to receiver Calvin Johnson, the most yards by any receiver in a regulation NFL game. (I know the official listing will have Johnson second to Flipper Anderson’s 336 yards in 1989, but that was in an overtime game and at the end of regulation, Anderson had fewer yards than Johnson. So there.)

Tony Romo and the Cowboys offense didn’t do much either. Romo had a total of 206 yards passing. The Lions’ Matthew Stafford had 211 yards passing in the fourth quarter alone.

Two of Romo’s tosses went for 60 yards to Terrance Williams and 50 to Dez Bryant, misleading numbers because most of those yards were the result of excellent runs after the catch by Williams and Bryant. In fact, I wish the NFL would break up those statistics, awarding the quarterback only the yardage between the throw and the catch, and awarding the receiver the rest.

But I digress. Take away those 110 yards and Romo was a pathetic 12 of 28 (a horrendous 43 percent completion rate) for only 96 yards. 96 YARDS? If you’re only going to pass for 96 yards you’d better have one super strong running game.

So let’s look at the Cowboys rushing stats. Ahem. The Cowboys rushed for a grand total of 62 yards yesterday. The Lions’ Reggie Bush alone rushed for 92.

There’s a program on ESPN called Numbers Never Lie. They sure don’t in this case. The Cowboys offense was just as much to blame for this loss as the defense. And don’t forget – the Lions’ margin of victory could have been significantly greater were it not for the four turnovers registered by that much maligned defense.

Mind you, I’m not absolving the defense for its performance yesterday. I’m just saying there’s plenty of blame to share.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

My Top 25 College Football Teams

Last week's rank in parenthesis
1.  Alabama 8-0 (2)
2.  Florida State 7-0 (1)
3.  Oregon 8-0 (3)
4.  Ohio State 8-0 (7)
5.  Stanford 7-1 (6)
6.  Baylor 7-0 (5)
7.  Missouri 7-1 (4)
8.  Clemson 7-1 (8)
9.  Auburn 7-1 (12)
10. Texas A&M 6-2 (15)
11. Miami, Fla. 7-0 (10)
12. Arizona State 5-2 (11)
13. LSU 7-2 (9)
14. South Carolina 6-2 (20)
15. Oklahoma 7-1 (18)
16. BYU 6-2 (25)
17. Louisville 7-1 (17)
18. UCLA 5-2 (13)
19. Michigan State 7-1 (NR)
20. Texas Tech 7-1 (14)
21. Georgia 4-3 (19)
22. UCF 6-1 (22)
23. Oklahoma State 6-1 (NR)
24. Wisconsin 5-2 (21)
25. Michigan 6-1 (24)
Dropped out: Oregon State (23), Virginia Tech (16).

Goodnight, Lou

I first came in contact with Lou Reed in 1967 with the release of that great album The Velvet Underground & Nico, which contains the song in the above video. It is my favorite Lou Reed song, although I will admit enjoying walking on the wild side with Lou. I am going to miss him. Lou Reed died today, six months after undergoing a liver transplant.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Bye bye A.C.

Interim City Manager A.C. Gonzalez (left) and Mayor Mike Rawlings

I was talking to a high ranking Dallas city official (who will remain nameless for obvious reasons) during a particular budget townhall meeting a couple of months ago and I asked this person (not even going to reveal my source’s gender) how things were going in the managerial offices at Dallas City Hall. "Not well,’ this person said rather frankly. "You could cut the tension with a knife."

When this person told me that I knew some of what was going on in the City Manager’s department. Mary Suhm had resigned as city manager and her first assistant, A.C. Gonzalez, had assumed the position as the interim city manager, a position he will hold until the City Council names Suhm’s replacement. The tension, I believed, revolved around the fact that Suhm was still occupying the office set aside for the city manager while Gonzalez had to remain in the office designated for the first assistant city manager. I could understand why Gonzalez might be put out by this, but I thought it was petty. As for Suhm she had her own history to serve as precedent. When her predecessor, Teodoro Benavides, resigned as city manager and Suhm, his first assistant, was named interim city manager, she remained in her own office until the City Council officially confirmed her to replace Benavides.

But reading the article in the Dallas Morning News today about the Uber transportation debacle, there might have been more to it than just a spite over office space. Although Suhm was as anxious as Gonzalez to get an ordinance passed that would put Uber out of business, it now appears, according to an investigation into the whole process initiated by Mayor Mike Rawlings, that the two differed significantly on how to get it passed. Gonzalez wanted to push it though with as little discussion and notice as possible. Therefore he had it placed on the very next available consent agenda to be considered by the City Council. Items on the consent agenda are passed en masse without discussion (unless some watchdog council person notifies the city secretary early enough to get the item pulled from the consent agenda to be considered individually, but that practice sort of went out of fashion when Mitchell Rasansky left the council a half dozen years or so ago). Suhm, on the other hand, vehemently disagreed with this process, according to the mayor’s report released yesterday. She favored the more traditional process — taking the proposed ordinance to an appropriate council committee for discussion and debate prior to placing it on the full council’s agenda.

That kind of strong disagreement between the two most powerful individuals on the city’s staff could definitely cause tension that could be cut with a knife.

As anyone following this story knows by now, the mayor and a majority of the city council agreed with Suhm and disagreed with Gonzalez. It wasn’t the proposed ordinance that came under review by the report, but the process by which Gonzalez took it to council. The mayor’s report was a devastating blow to the interim city manager who has made no secret of the fact that he wants the word "interim" removed from his title.

It ain’t gonna happen.

One thing is clear from all this — A.C. Gonzalez has absolutely no chance of being named by this council as the next city manager. He has tried to fall on his sword with an apology that seemed too well crafted to be genuine (i.e., it came across as something written for him and not sentiments from his heart). But this particular paragraph from the Morning News’s story is devastating for Gonzalez’s future:

Sam Merten, the mayor’s spokesman, said no disciplinary action will be taken against Gonzalez. "But this incident will be evaluated as part of his overall job performance when he’s considered for the full-time job," Merten said.

You don’t have to read that closely between the lines of that paragraph to realize Gonzalez could save himself a lot of embarrassment by withdrawing his name from consideration right now. Especially when he has to deal with city council demagogues like Philip Kingston, who, according to the News’s story, said this entire affair "did confirm my assumption that the Uber debacle was not the result of discrete instances of poor judgment. It resulted from a culture in the manager’s office of removing policymaking authority from the council."

Kingston, of course, is wrong. As the mayor’s report shows, the entire mess was the result of a discrete instance of poor judgment — a judgment that most within the city manager’s department disagreed with. But Kingston is emerging as another one of those council members, like Scott Griggs and the aforementioned Rasansky, who is never going to let the truth stop him from what he wants to complain about, especially when it comes to the city personnel.

But what he is putting on the table is that no one currently employed by the City of Dallas has a chance of becoming the next city manager. In fact, Gonzalez probably did the council a favor by effectively removing himself from consideration. The council believes one way to show it is racially unbiased is by picking persons for positions based on race. For example, if voters elect a mayor who is white, the mayor pro temp must be either black or Hispanic. And if a black is chosen, than a Hispanic is named deputy mayor pro temp.

So here’s going to be the council’s thinking process on this. The last city manager was a white female. Her predecessor was a Hispanic male. So the next city manager needs to be African-American and other than Police Chief David Brown there is not a single African American on the city’s staff qualified to be city manager. (Sorry, Forest Turner, but that’s the truth.)

Which makes me think: Where’s Charles Daniels when we need him?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Texas escalates its war on women

Not content to simply deny women the health care they need, Texas Republicans are now doing their best to disenfranchise women.

It’s interesting that at a time when a Democratic woman candidate is mounting a serious campaign for the governor of the state, that Republicans are doing their best to prevent as many women from voting as they possibly can.

As I wrote earlier, the only way for Republicans to have any chance of winning contested elections is to prevent Democrats from voting and so far Texas has been successful in making sure blacks, Hispanics and college students don’t vote (although those successes are being challenged by the U.S. Department of Justice).

But now there is a new threat to Republican supremacy. Support for state senator Wendy Davis skyrocketed after her electrifying filibuster earlier this year. Women, tired of seeing Republicans control their reproductive rights, are gravitating to the Democratic Party in increasingly larger numbers (the 2012 Presidential election revealed the largest gender gap between the candidates in history) and Davis’ candidacy is attracting even more women to the Democrats.

So what’s a Republican to do? They gotta pass laws to prevent as many women from voting as possible.

Beginning Nov. 5, voters must present a photo identification to vote. It is estimated that 25 percent of African Americans and 16 percent of Hispanics do not possess an ID that would satisfy the Texas requirements. Eighteen percent of individuals over 65 carry no photo ID at all. Student ID cards issued by colleges and universities are not acceptable. These are the groups that tend to vote overwhelmingly Democratic and women are joining their ranks.

Here’s how the law disenfranchises a little more than a third of all women voters in Texas. The photo ID women show must contain their up-to-date legal name. That means if a woman is married, but her ID still lists her single name, she can’t vote. By the same token, if a woman is divorced, but her license still has her married name on it, sorry.

Now I have not poured through every law book in the state of Texas, but as far as I can tell right now, there is no law that requires a married woman to take her husband’s surname as her legal name. But you must take that name and put it on your license if you want to vote in Texas.

The estimated 34 percent of women disenfranchised by this law can obtain a state-issued ID that will allow them to vote but in order to obtain this ID they must provide an original birth certificate AND an original marriage license or divorce decree. Photocopies will not be accepted.

It costs about $20 to obtain original copies of those documents so forcing women to pay that money, plus the costs of mailing and handling, amounts to a poll tax, something expressly prohibited by the 24th Amendment. But Texas’s racist, misogynist Republicans have never let some piddling trifle such as the U.S. Constitution stop them before, so why should they start now?

Monday, October 21, 2013

My Top 25 College Football Teams

Last week's rank in parenthesis
1.  Florida State 6-0 (3)
2.  Alabama 7-0 (1)
3.  Oregon 7-0 (2)
4.  Missouri 7-0 (6)
5.  Baylor 6-0 (7)
6.  Stanford 6-1 (10)
7.  Ohio State 7-0 (8)
8.  Clemson 6-1 (4)
9.  LSU 6-2 (5)
10. Miami, Fla. 6-0 (14)
11. Arizona State 5-2 (22)
12. Auburn 6-1 (21)
13. UCLA 5-1 (9)
14. Texas Tech 7-0 (17)
15. Texas A&M 5-2 (12)
16. Virginia Tech 6-1 (19)
17. Louisville 6-1 (13)
18. Oklahoma 6-1 (20)
19. Georgia 4-3 (11)
20. South Carolina 5-2 (15)
21. Wisconsin 5-2 (24)
22. UCF 5-1 (NR)
23. Oregon State 6-1 (25)
24. Michigan 6-1 (NR)
25. BYU 5-2 (NR)
Dropped out: Florida (16), Utah (23), Washington (18)

This Week’s DVD Releases

Before Midnight ***** Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy. Directed by Richard Linklater. This second sequel to the romantic drama Before Sunrise checks in with multinational lovers Jesse and Celine nine years after they reunited. Living in Greece, the couple struggles with emotions relating to parenthood, middle age and faded romance. Just as swoon-worthy, and essential, as its predecessors, Before Midnight reveals the full scope of Linklater’s ambition. This is not just another stellar follow-up, but the latest entry in what’s shaping up to be a grand experiment — the earnest attempt to depict the life of a relationship onscreen, decade by increasingly tumultuous decade. In the process of justifying its own existence, Before Midnight redeems the very notion of sequels. It surpasses the two previous films in this trilogy in terms of its intelligence, narrative design, and vivacity. It’s a grand accomplishment, and I feel greedy about wanting to see this film series continue. Delpy and Hawke, who’ve invested this trilogy with the fine shadings of life lived, do extraordinary things with small moments.

The Conjuring *** Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Ron Livingston, Lili Taylor. Directed by James Wan. Paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren work to help a family terrorized by a dark presence in their farmhouse. The film digs up no new ground — indeed, it seems almost proud of its old school bona fides — but it plows the classic terrain with a skill that feels a lot like affection. The ghost that’s really haunting this movie is nostalgia.

I Give It a Year **½ Rose Byrne, Anna Faris, Rafe Spall, Simon Baker. Directed by Dan Mazer. Newlyweds Nat and Josh find their marriage beginning to fall apart almost immediately after their fairy tale wedding. The couple seeks the advice of a counselor, but both are also tempted by old and new lovers. The jokes are strong and delivered by a very talented cast, but the heart isn’t there. It’s easy to laugh, but hard to care.

The Internship ½* Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson. Directed by Shawn Levy. Two salesmen whose careers have been torpedoed by the digital age find their way into a coveted internship at Google, where they must compete with a group of young, tech-savvy geniuses for a shot at employment. You need only watch the above trailer to know that this movie is a promo for Google; think Google for Dummies, as well as Comedy for Dummies. It’s as if the writers googled "how to write a script" and nothing came up, so they wrote this anyway.

Just Like a Woman * Sienna Miller, Golshifteh Farahani. Directed by Rachid Bouchareb. Two women get on the highway heading to Santa Fe. Marilyn dreams of winning a contest held by a famous belly dancing company, while her friend, Mona, is a fugitive from justice, accused of her mother-in-law’s death. All that’s missing from Bouchareb’s salute to Thelma & Louise, is the quality.

Molly’s Theory of Relativity **½ Directed by Jeff Lipsky. When an attractive young astronomer and mother abruptly loses her job, she’s obliged to consider what to do with her life next. Luckily, she has lots of advisers, including a neighbor who may not exist. The characters never sound like they’re actually talking to one another, but rather delivering Lipsky’s echo-chamber monologues.

Only God Forgives Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas. Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. A drug-smuggler thriving in Bangkok’s criminal underworld, sees his life get even more complicated when his mother compels him to find and kill whoever is responsible for his brother’s recent death. The Danish filmmaker’s latest theater of the macabre is brutal, bloody, saturated with revenge, sex and death, yet stunningly devoid of meaning, purpose, emotion or decent lighting. Seriously. Artful shadows can certainly set a mood; too many and it merely looks like someone is trying too hard.

Paradise: Faith *** Directed by Ulrich Seidl. Anna Maria is an X-ray technician who spends her free time lugging a statue of the Virgin Mary through Vienna, hoping to convert her fellow citizens. But her mission is derailed by the sudden reappearance of her long-lost husband, an Egyptian Muslim. Although there are several stretches in the movie in which Seidl seems to be repeating himself, the director is carefully building toward a knock-out final scene in which the inscrutable, often annoying Anna becomes beautifully, poignantly human in front of our eyes, like magic.

Shepard & Dark **½ Sam Shepard, Johnny Dark. Directed by Treva Wurmfeld. A documentary that examines the process by which playwright and actor Shepard decided in 2010 to publish a chronicle of his long-standing friendship with Dark by gathering years of their correspondence. Despite its unusual beginnings, the friendship doesn’t offer much narrative juice.

The Way, Way Back **½ Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, Annasophia Robb, Sam Rockwell, Maya Rudolph, Rob Corddry, Amanda Peet, Liam James. Directed by Nat Faxon, Jim Rash. Shy 14-year-old Duncan goes on summer vacation with his mother, her overbearing boyfriend, and her boyfriend’s daughter. Having a rough time fitting in, Duncan finds an unexpected friend in Owen, manager of the Water Wizz water park. The story of a teen desperate for a father figure who finds encouragement from a wild-and-crazy water-park employee — rather than from the guy auditioning to be his stepdad — can be explosively funny in parts, but overall feels pretty familiar, relying more on its cast than the material to win favor.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Republicans aren’t going to win too many contested elections without cheating; so, naturally, they’re cheating

A Republican will never be elected President of the United States again in my lifetime. Now, admittedly, I’m an old codger with limited years of breathing left to me, but I’m betting I have around 15 years left in me.

And a Republican is not going to win the presidency again in the next 15 years, perhaps even in the next 30 unless there is a massive transformation in that party.

What’s more, Republicans know this. Especially Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives know this. That’s why they shut down the government. It had nothing to do with Obamacare — that was just the handy, as the great Alfred Hitchcock called it, McGuffin. House Republicans, realizing they are not going to win another Presidential election perhaps even in Ted Cruz’s lifetime, shut down the government in a disastrous and failed attempt to render the office of President powerless and invest more power into their representative body. Their thinking was that Republican state legislatures, like the one here in Texas, have gerrymandered House districts to such a degree that it would require all-time stupidity on their part to lose their House majority. (They may have blundered into such a scenario, but that’s a topic for another day.)

The 2012 Presidential election painted a vivid picture of a new American electorate — an electorate that is more like the country’s growing minority-majority population, an electorate dominated by African-Americans, Hispanics and women vitally concerned with issues concerning controlling their own health choices. This electorate is not going to vote Republican and House Republicans know this.

But, of course, they can always try to cheat the system and you’re seeing that more and more today. That cheating is taking place in three ways. First, not content with simply gerrymandering to insure white male Republicans maintain their edge, GOP legislatures are passing voter suppression laws to prevent Democrats from voting. Look at the draconian voter suppression laws recently passed in Ohio, North Carolina and Texas, laws that are so blatant in North Carolina and Texas that they are being challenged by the Justice Department.

Second, Republicans are staging voter purges to remove Democrats from the list of registered voters. This is being conducted most prominently by Republican state leaders in Florida and Virginia, two states posed to get rid of their Republican governors in the next election cycle and replace them with Democrats, unless those governors can succeed in removing those pesky Democrats from the rolls of qualified voters. Nowhere is this more blatant than in Virginia where the state’s chief elections officer, its attorney general, has ordered the purge of 38,870 individuals from the rolls of eligible voters. Why? Because that attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, is also the Republican nominee for governor (he’s the first Virginia elected official in 35 years not to resign his office while running for another elected position) and, with just a few weeks to go before the election, polls show Cuccinelli running about eight percentage points behind Democrat Terry McAuliffe. Now off-year elections always have low voter turnouts and Republicans always fare better when turnouts are low, so Cuccinelli personally preventing 38,000 potential McAuliffe voters from going to the polls is a very big deal.

Third, Republicans are trying to change the way Presidents are elected. These Republican legislatures are drafting laws that would eliminate the winner-takes-all-the-state’s-Electoral-College-votes system and replace it with Electoral College voting being apportioned among the state’s congressional districts. If that law had been in place in the last Presidential Election, Mitt Romney would have won the Presidency with 83 more electoral votes than Barack Obama, even though Obama won the popular vote by more than five million.

So even Republicans know they can’t win without cheating. Let’s look at those Republicans who are considered right this minute to be the leading contenders in the 2016 Presidential election. They are Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan and Chris Christie. I don’t think I left anyone off that list. The first four names on that list shamed themselves last night by voting to keep the U.S. government closed (a closure that, according to Standard & Poor’s, cost the American economy $24 billion) and plunge the country into economic chaos. A snowball stands more of a chance of surviving for 30 seconds in a running microwave oven than anyone who cast a vote against re-opening the government has of winning the Presidency. As for Christie, I don’t think the whackos who control the GOP nominating process will permit him to be their party’s nominee.

So if they can’t wind on their policy decisions, what chance do they have? Well, there’s always cheating.

Monday, October 14, 2013

My Top 25 College Football Teams

Last week's rank in parenthesis
1.  Alabama 6-0 (2)
2.  Oregon 6-0 (3)
3.  Florida State 5-0 (1)
4.  Clemson 6-0 (4)
5.  LSU 6-1 (9)
6.  Missouri 6-0 (13)
7.  Baylor 5-0 (7)
8.  Ohio State 6-0 (8)
9.  UCLA 5-0 (11)
10. Stanford 5-1 (5)
11. Georgia 4-2 (6)
12. Texas A&M 5-1 (17)
13. Louisville 6-0 (16)
14. Miami, Fla. 5-0 (12)
15. South Carolina 5-1 (19)
16. Florida 4-2 (14)
17. Texas Tech 6-0 (18)
18. Washington 4-2 (15)
19. Virginia Tech 6-1 (20)
20. Oklahoma 5-1 (10)
21. Auburn 5-1 (22)
22. Arizona State 4-2 (23)
23. Utah 4-2 (NR)
24. Wisconsin 4-2 (NR)
25. Oregon State 5-1 (NR)
Dropped out: Arizona (24), Michigan (21), Oklahoma State (25)

This Week’s DVD Releases

The Colony **½ Laurence Fishburne, Bill Paxton, Kevin Zegers. Directed by Jeff Renfroe. Amid an icy postapocalyptic landscape, the inhabitants of Colony 7 abruptly lose contact with the only other known settlement. An expedition to solve the mystery reveals a threat much worse than imagined and kicks off a savage battle for survival. This is two-thirds of a pretty good sci-fi suspense movie. But it eventually takes a disappointing turn and becomes yet another run-from-the-ghouls exercise, cheapening decent work by a good cast.

Dirty Wars **** Directed by Rock Rowley. Exploring America’s covert operations in the war on terror, investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill takes viewers on a revealing journey through drone strikes, night raids, kill lists that include U.S. citizens and secret government-condoned torture. A remarkable documentary as important as it is compelling.

Drug War **** Directed by Johnnie To. A drug cartel boss who is arrested in a raid is coerced into betraying his former accomplices as part of an undercover operation. This is a deeply intelligent, exhilarating and eminently satisfying adult crime story, one of the best thrillers you’re likely to see this year.

The Heat **½ Sandra Bullock, Melissa McCarthy. Directed by Paul Feig. An uptight FBI Special Agent is paired with a foul-mouthed Boston cop to take down a ruthless drug lord. The movie — too much of it — is spent testing the boundaries of how loud and obnoxious McCarthy can be. Feig doesn’t hand this able comic actress the gift of freedom; he simply gives her enough rope, which isn’t nearly the same thing.

A Hijacking ***½ Søren Malling, Johan Philip Asbæk, Dar Salim, Roland Møller, Gary Skjoldmose Porter, Abdihakan Asgar. Directed by Tobias Lindholm. The crew of a Danish cargo ship is hijacked by Somali pirates who proceed to engage in escalating negotiations with authorities in Copenhagen. Danish director Lindholm spins an exacting drama out of a crisis on this deft, verite-style account of Somali piracy in the Indian ocean. Full credit to the film for resisting the siren-call of Hollywood histrionics in favour of the nuts-and-bolts.

Jug Face **½ Lauren Ashley Carter, Sean Bridgers, Sean Young, Larry Fessenden, Daniel Manche. Directed by Chad Crawford Kinkle. Teenager Ada is pregnant, which means she’ll make the ideal sacrifice to a monstrous beast that lives in a pit near her backwoods village. When she learns of her fate, however, she flees, leaving the community to cope with the unfed creature’s wrath. Kinkle’s debut refreshingly sacrifices gore showpieces (though it is bloody at times) for a steadily increasing dread tied to a young woman’s desperation.

Maniac **½ Elijah Wood, Nora Arnezeder. Directed by Frank Khalfoun. As he helps a young artist with her upcoming exhibition, the owner of a mannequin shop’s deadly, suppressed desires come to the surface. The movie, told from the killer’s point of view, is genuinely unsettling and propelled by a terrific, buzzing synth soundtrack straight out of the early ‘80s. But the only suspense is in which woman will be the next victim.

Pacific Rim *** Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Rob Kazinsky, Max Martini, Ron Perlman. Directed by Guillermo Del Toro. As a war between humankind and monstrous sea creatures wages on, a former pilot and a trainee are paired to drive a seemingly obsolete special weapon in a desperate effort to save the world from the apocalypse. Of all this year’s loud, over-long action movies that, in various ways, simulate the experience of having a tin bucket placed over your head and being struck repeatedly with a stick, it must be said that this one is by far the most entertaining.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

UT athletics should stage its own commando raid

Mack Brown and Rick Barnes

Texas football coach Mack Brown’s immediate future will be decided Saturday. If he manages to pull off a miracle akin to convincing House Speaker John Boehner to call a vote on a temporary budget resolution, then his job is secure, at least for the foreseeable future. If, however, Oklahoma embarrasses the Longhorns once again — a result most sane observers expect — he’s history. Gone. Finished.

No, he won’t be fired immediately. Athletic Director DeLoss Dodds won’t pull him off the team bus as it prepares to leave the Cotton Bowl. In fact, he won’t be fired at all — he’s done too much that’s positive for the Texas football program to suffer that indignity. But it will be made clear to him that he will have no choice other than to announce his resignation at the end of the current football season.

And don’t forget, Dodds has also indicated he plans to retire as well.

Lost in all this discussion about Brown and Dodds is the fact that Texas’ basketball fortunes have gone further into the depths than the football program and that baseball has not fared all that well recently either (the Horns didn’t even qualify for the Big 12 tournament last season).

I think coach Augie Garrido can salvage UT baseball. I have absolutely no faith that Brown or basketball coach Rick Barnes can do the same.

Tom Jurich
So here’s what I am suggesting: the UT athletic department should stage a full scale commando raid on the athletic department at the University of Louisville and steal away that school’s athletic director, football coach and, most important of all, its basketball coach.

Louisville AD Tom Jurich is one of the best heads of an athletic department you’re going to find. In 2007, Jurich was named Street & Smith’s national athletic director of the year. However, I’m afraid too many members of UT’s Board of Regents (the majority of which were appointed by former Texas A&M yell leader Gov. Hair) want a lawyer type and not an athletic savvy person in that position. Which is a shame because that could doom UT athletics to mediocrity for decades.

Rick Pitino
Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino is simply a no-brainer. Pitino is the only college coach in NCAA history to take three different schools (Providence, Kentucky and Louisville) to the Final Four and the only coach to win a national championship at two different schools (Kentucky and Louisville). Would he ever consider leaving Louisville? Well, look at it this way: In 2001, everyone expected Pitino to take over as head basketball coach at Michigan. Instead he surprised the world by going to Louisville. Why? Because, Pitino said at the time, "I can’t get on the phone and tell Tom (Jurich) no. I can’t tell him this." One would hope that if Jurich became UT’s athletic director, Pitino would have the same problem all over again.

Finally, there’s Louisville football coach Charlie Strong. Strong has a (pardon me for saying this)
Charlie Strong
"strong" SEC background having served as a defensive coordinator at South Carolina and Florida (he was also the Florida interim head coach for one game — the Gator Bowl — when Ron Zook was fired in 2004). When Urban Meyer was hired from Utah to replace Zook, Strong was the only assistant coach Meyer retained. His Cardinals, of course, are undefeated this season behind the play of Heisman Trophy candidate, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. But perhaps his biggest accomplishment came in this year’s Sugar Bowl game when his team entered the contest as a two touchdown underdog to his former team, the Florida Gators. Louisville’s 33-23 victory over Florida represented the biggest upset victory in terms of a point spread in the entire 25-year history of the BCS. He will restore toughness to the football team, which has earned the reputation of being "soft" the last three years. Strong’s only drawback is racial, He’s black and there’s never been a black head coach at the University of Texas, which is criminal. Not only that, but Strong’s wife is white and some of the bigoted narrow minds may hold that against him.

Which is why the naming of Jurich as AD is so important. Once that chip falls, the other two could follow. Louisville fans would hate UT forever, but that, in my book, is a small price to pay to restore UT athletics to prominence.

Monday, October 7, 2013

My Top 25 College Football Teams

Last week's rank in parenthesis
1.  Florida State 5-0 (3)
2.  Alabama 5-0 (1)
3.  Oregon 5-0 (2)
4.  Clemson 5-0 (6)
5.  Stanford 5-0 (4)
6.  Georgia 4-1 (5)
7.  Baylor 4-0 (8)
8.  Ohio State 6-0 (9)
9.  LSU 5-1 (10)
10. Oklahoma 5-0 (11)
11. UCLA 4-0 (13)
12. Miami, Fla. 5-0 (20)
13. Missouri 5-0 (19)
14. Florida 4-1 (18)
15. Washington 4-1 (7)
16. Louisville 5-0 (14)
17. Texas A&M 4-1 (12)
18. Texas Tech 5-0 (17)
19. South Carolina 4-1 (15)
20. Virginia Tech 5-1 (21)
21. Michigan 5-0 (NR)
22. Auburn 4-1 (NR)
23. Arizona State 3-2 (16)
24. Arizona 3-1 (23)
25. Oklahoma State 4-1 (NR)
Dropped out: Maryland (24), Mississippi (25), Northwestern (22).

This week’s DVD Releases

After Earth * Jaden Smith, Will Smith. Directed by M. Night Shyamalan. A thousand years in the future, Gen. Cypher Raige and his young son, Kitai, crash-land their crippled ship on the long-abandoned, desolate Earth. With his father near death, Kitai sets out to find a beacon that will save them from certain doom. Running, or stumbling, only 90 minutes, After Earth may lack the neck-swiveling awfulness of Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender, but it quickly sinks in its logorrheic solemnity. The movie makes Oblivion seem as jolly a romp as Spaceballs, and gives neither Shyamalan nor Smith much to smile about.

Europa Report **½ Directed by Sebastián Cordero. An international crew of astronauts undertakes a privately funded mission to search for life on Jupiter’s fourth largest moon. As directed by Ecuadorian filmmaker Cordero (Chronicles, Rage), Europa Report manages a few striking and intense sequences — most notably, a fatal drift into the endless vacuum of nothingness, filmed from the perspective of the disappearing spaceman.

A Girl and a GunDirected by Catheryne Czubek. A symbol of power and danger, the gun has served as an American cultural icon since the nation’s founding — but nearly always in the hands of men. This documentary moves the focus to women and their changing attitudes about guns in society. Had Czubek focused on just one or two of the several interesting or lesser-explored topics under the umbrella of her debut film’s subject matter, A Girl and a Gun might have amounted to a sharper, more interesting documentary.

The Hangover Part III * Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Ken Jeong, Heather Graham, Jeffrey Tambor, Justin Bartha, John Goodman. Directed by Todd Phillips. The gang has to figure out how to rescue Alan from a mental hospital. If the first Hangover movie were this awful, there never would have been a Part Two. This is a joyless, unfunny mix of comedy and drama, a complete waste of time, with exactly one good joke in the entire movie. It comes in the first minute. After that, you can replace this with another DVD.

Laurence Anyways **** Directed by Xavier Dolan. A drama that charts 10 years in the relationship of a male-to-female transsexual’s relationship with her lover. Laurence Anyways flows naturally, both thematically and stylistically, from Dolan’s previous movies; here, though, he succeeds more than ever at incorporating his visual idiosyncrasies into the narrative.

The Lifeguard * Kristen Bell. Directed by Liz W. Garcia. A former valedictorian quits her reporter job in New York and returns to the place she last felt happy: her childhood home in Connecticut. She gets work as a lifeguard and starts a dangerous relationship with a troubled teenager. Surprisingly for a writer turned director, the most evident shortcomings with Garcia’s feature originate with the script. With barely any backstory to support them, the characters consistently appear to lack the motivations necessary for their actions.

The Look of Love **½ Steve Googan, Anna Friel, Tamsin Egerton, Imogen Poots. Directed by Michael Winterbottom. The life of Paul Raymond, the controversial entrepreneur who became Britain’s richest man. Had this film focused more acutely on the father-daughter relationship or explored Raymond’s relationships with his two sons, only one of whom appears briefly, it might have amounted to something more substantial than a keenly observed period piece that keeps a celebrity journalist’s distance from its subject.

Much Ado About Nothing ****½ Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Reed Diamond, Clark Gregg, Fran Kranz, Sean Maher, Jillian Morgese, Nathan Fillion. Directed by Joss Whedon. A modern retelling of Shakespeare’s classic comedy about two pairs of lovers with different takes on romance and a way with words. Whedon’s adaptation is just about the sloppiest Shakespeare ever put on the screen. It may also be the most exhilarating — a profound trifle that reminds you how close Shakespeare’s comedies verge on darkness before pirouetting back into the light.

Nothing Left to Fear (no stars) Anne Heche, Clancy Brown, Jennifer Stone. Directed by Anthony Leonardi III. A family’s journey toward a better life is interrupted by an unstable man of the cloth. Any sensible person should not even consider watching this video.

The Purge **½ Ehan Hawke, Lena Headey. Directed by James DeMonaco. In the future, a wealthy family is held hostage for harboring the target of a murderous syndicate during the Purge, a 12-hour period in which any and all crime is legalized. After a wickedly promising start, this pointed political satire quickly deteriorates into a fairly routine, if sporadically quite effective, home-invasion thriller.

Stuck in Love **½ Greg Kinnear, Jennifer Connelly, Lily Collins, Logan Lehrman, Nat Wolff, Kristen Bell. Directed by Josh Boone. An acclaimed writer, his ex-wife, and their teenaged children come to terms with the complexities of love in all its forms over the course of one tumultuous year. The ending may be a little too tidy and obvious, but this is a sweet little study of the right royal mess people can make of relationships when they let their own neuroses take over, and a warm tribute to overcoming them.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Tom Hanks could snare two acting Oscar nominations

Here's how I see the major Oscar nominations shaping up as of the first of October: 

12 Years a Slave
American Hustle
August: Osage County
The Butler
Captain Phillips
Inside Llewyn Davis
The Monuments Men
Saving Mr. Banks
The Wolf of Wall Street

Alonso Cuaron, Gravity
Paul Greengrass, Captain Phillips
Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
David O. Russell, American Hustle
Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street

Bruce Dern, Nebraska
Chiwetel Ejofor, 12 Years a Slave
Tom Hanks, Captain Phillips
Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
Robert Redford, All Is Lost

Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock, Gravity
Judi Dench, Philomena
Meryl Streep, August: Osage County
Emma Thompson, Saving Mr. Banks

Daniel Bruhl, Rush
Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
John Goodman, Inside Llewyn Davis
Tom Hanks, Saving Mr. Banks
Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club

Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
Margo Martindale, August: Osage County
Lupita Nyongo, 12 Years a Slave
Octavia Spencer, Fruitvale Station
Oprah Winfrey, The Butler

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Baseball playoff predictions

I really like the addition of a second wild card team in the playoffs, but I would much rather see the wild card playoff be a best two-out-of-three-game series instead of a one-game winner-take-all. Regardless, here's how I see the rest of the playoffs going:

Detroit over Oakland
Tampa Bay over Boston (upset special)

Los Angeles over Atlanta
St. Louis over Pittsburgh

Detroit over Tampa Bay

St. Louis over Los Angeles

Detroit over St. Louis

It's worth noting (bragging) that I nailed these predictions last year, so this year I'm predicting the Detroit Tigers will be getting a measure of revenge.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

My Top 25 College Football Teams

Ratings from two weeks ago in parenthesis
1.  Alabama 4-0 (1)
2.  Oregon 4-0 (2)
3.  Florida State 4-0 (3)
4.  Stanford 4-0 (11)
5.  Georgia 3-1 (6)
6.  Clemson 4-0 (9)
7.  Washington 4-0 (16)
8.  Baylor 3-0 (14)
9.  Ohio State 5-0 (10)
10. LSU 4-1 (4)
11. Oklahoma 4-0 (8)
12. Texas A&M 4-1 (5)
13. UCLA 3-0 (12)
14. Louisville 4-0 (17)
15. South Carolina 3-1 (13)
16. Arizona State 3-1 (15)
17. Texas Tech 4-0 (NR)
18. Florida 3-1 (21)
19. Missouri 4-0 (NR)
20. Miami, Fla. 4-0 (22)
21. Virginia Tech 4-1 (NR)
22. Northwestern 4-0 (20)
23. Arizona 3-1 (24)
24. Maryland 4-0 (NR)
25. Mississippi 3-1 (19)
Dropped out: Georgia Tech (23), Michigan (18), Oklahoma State (7), Wisconsin (25)

Casual Observations (mainly about government irresponsibility)

  • Anyone who thinks the government shutdown has anything to do with Obamacare isn’t paying attention. A significant group of Republican right-wing-nuts were elected to the House of Representatives in 2010 by promising to shut down the government. This irresponsible move by a minority of Republican lunatics is not a tactic to achieve some end, it is the end itself, as far as these jerks are concerned.
  • Opinion polls reflect this reality. In a CNN/ORC International poll released yesterday only 10 percent of Americans polled said they approved of how Congress is operating and a whopping 87 percent disapprove. What’s worse for the GOP, according to a Quinnipiac University poll, only 17 percent approve of how Republicans are handling government affairs and 74 percent disapproved. (Democrats’ approval rating was 32 percent, not great, but almost twice as high as Republican, and up 1 percent from the last poll).
  • Ironically, one of the many programs the shutdown won’t affect is the Affordable Care Act. In fact, beginning today, Americans can go on-line to purchase their own affordable health insurance from one of the many available exchanges. It all starts right here.
  • Today also marks the 55th anniversary of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. It will be celebrated by only about 550 of NASA’s 28,000 employees. Those 550 are needed to keep operational those satellites currently circulating the globe. The rest have been told not to report to work today because of the government shutdown.
  • And, finally, speaking of polls, according to a poll conducted by the arch-conservative Fox News Network, 47 percent of Americans oppose Obamacare (a figure I found incredibly low, considering the source of the poll). However, that same poll revealed only 34 percent of Americans oppose the Affordable Care Act. I guess those poll results reveal more about the intelligence level of those watching Fox News than anything else. "Here is a prediction for you," President Obama said last week. "A few years from now, when people are using this to get coverage and everyone’s feeling pretty good about all the choices and competition that they’ve got, there are gonna be a whole bunch of folks who say, ‘Yeah, yeah, I always thought this provision was excellent. I voted for that thing.’ You watch. It will not be called Obamacare."